Christians and Muslims side by side in Syria

little boy Aleppo Syria
Photo:Avo Kaprealian and Sedki Al Imam/JRS, Aleppo, Syria.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) employs 350 people in Syria and in Aleppo, with its population of 1.5 million, some of those workers help with emergency relief. “Everyone needs help in Aleppo so JRS staff has a kitchen where they cook meals for 8,000 people every single day.” explains Fr Michael Zammit SJ, “The food is given to over 35 aid agencies who distribute it.”

Church presence shows solidarity and support

Muslims, Christians, Armenians and Kurds work alongside each other and while only two of the agencies are Christian, he believes it is very important to have a Church presence there showing solidarity and support.

The Jesuits in Aleppo work in the government-held areas providing a clinic where people with chronic illnesses like high blood pressure or diabetes can go. This is an important service given the targeted bombings of the hospitals in the city and the shortage of medical staff overall. JRS also provides a place where students can come to study.” Yes, there is normality but at the same time, death is ever present”.

JRS Aleppo
Food preparation in the JRS Field Kitchen, Aleppo

“The desire to live is extremely strong.”

When Fr Zammit SJ visited Aleppo earlier this year, he had expected to find a completely destroyed city but it was a city in which life seemed to be carrying on as normal: “It’s absolutely wonderful to see how resilient people are”. He described what happens when the bombings start—the locals go to shelters and stay there until the shelling ends. They then emerge, clean up the mess and continue going about their daily lives: “The desire to live is extremely strong.” he said.

Life is, of course, extremely difficult there with the insecurity, high unemployment and cost of living. But, says Fr Zammit: “It is amazing to see ordinary life continue like this in the midst of the chaos of war.”


Work continues amidst the chaos of war

Since Fr Zammit’s visit, according to Al Jazeera ‘Why Aleppo Matters’ the struggle for control of Aleppo between the mosaic of military and political factions and the regime, has intensified in the east, west, north and northern outskirts of the city with great loss and human suffering in some areas. But the daily, persistant work of the Jesuits and others continues. Please remember them and the people of Aleppo in your prayers.

Fr Michael Zammit SJ is JRS’ Middle East Regional Director. This article is drawn from his interviews given this summer at the Irish Jesuit Missions and Jesuits in Ireland offices.

Author: Irish Jesuit Missions Communications, 7th September 2016.